Service of Bragging

August 27th, 2012

Categories: Advertising, Bragging, Public Relations


Elizabeth Bernstein’s description of Facebook entries in “Are We All Braggarts Now?” and many of the updates I see remind me of December holiday letters. There’s news about the kids, all top of class at Harvard; an exhausting half million dollar remodeling project on a bungalow; brilliant new jobs; magical weeks in Paris and Hawaii and more.

spanishstepsIn Facebook, boasts are minute-to-minute: You and the gang at a four star restaurant, the view of the Spanish Steps in Rome from your hotel bedroom, the $1,000 bouquet of gratitude from a client or the name of your current [famous of course] significant other.

Friends tell me I’m a patsy for boasts. I take people literally. When someone says they are interviewing for a $300,000 job or they are pitching a multi-million $ account–and their agency is no bigger than mine–I believe them.

womaninermineA very successful PR woman I once knew collected fur coats. Her source: a prestigious NYC thrift shop. She had a magnificent ermine, fox and mink for starters and yet she never wore one when meeting clients.

Heavy handed braggarts are annoying. They make me squirm as much as a bad comedian. Their words fall flat on my ears but obviously impress others.

Bernstein wrote that this is how you should deal with a braggart: “‘Feel sorry for them, because they’re doing this impulsive, destructive thing that won’t help them in the long run,’ says Simine Vazire, a research psychologist and associate professor at Washington University in St. Louis. Research on self-enhancement shows that people who brag make a good first impression, but that it diminishes over time.”

That’s nice, but doesn’t this mean that the braggart gets the job and the client?

I refuse to promise what I can’t be sure to deliver, only that I will knock myself out trying. How many PR people are asked to get their client’s product or story in The New York Times, Vogue or on “Good Morning America?” How many of them say they’ve done this for countless other clients, forgetting to note that those clients had life-changing news, were major advertisers or that this happened 30 years ago. It’s safter and more accurate to suggest that to guarantee exposure in such venues, the client had best buy an ad.

I’m in a business where people are expected to brag and boast to their current and prospective clients about how they are the best in the world at what they do. I believe in third party endorsement. That’s what PR is based on. I’d rather my record and others tell the story than a bunch of blah blah on my part.

Are you good at bragging? What distinguishes a clumsy boast and brag from a legitimate sales pitch?


8 Responses to “Service of Bragging”

  1. Hester Craddock Said:

    As your posts are quite often are, this one is deceptively complicated.

    My first reaction was what I was taught from childhood, “Thou shalt not brag.”

    Braggarts for me have always been by definition unattractive, unpleasant people. From early childhood, I was always taught to avoid them the way you would avoid someone who cheats at cards. But it is not that simple.

    In a market economy such as ours, success in selling is the key measure used to determine winning and losing in life, and whoever met a successful salesman (or politician) that didn’t brag at least a little? Furthermore, at least a few of the cultures in our new multicultural society disdain humility, and admire aggression. After all, whimps finish last.

  2. Lucrezia Said:

    Bragging is little more than a show of poor sportsmanship. It usually means one has little to brag about. Those who could usually don’t need to. It’s as simple as that.

  3. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I trust I didn’t give the impression that I don’t tell a soul about awards and recognition and successes, or mention appropriate experience and so on. Surely I do. But I hear others rave about themselves touching something in me that shrieks, “UNCOMFORTABLE!!”

    I once worked at an agency [for a VERY short time] with a model based on “there’s a fool born every day…if we can get a few dollars out of them and do nothing, that’s a few dollars earned –no sweat! And by the time the clients figure it out we’ve cashed their check…and I’ll have other dopes to take their place.” The owner would promise the moon. The account execs were stuck picking up the pieces. Clients were told they could give media intros for a couple of dollars so when they’d get the true estimate from an AE, they’d faint…and nobody told design clients they needed [expensive] photography to even begin to knock on media’s doors and so on.

    You can see why I left in a hurry.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Said perfectly. But some are still taken in by it and it makes those of us who do less rather than more of it wonder at times if they shouldn’t ratchet up the brags a bit. Results might flounder, just as someone who is lousy at telling jokes or dudd-like at making funny observations shouldn’t consider doing standup comedy!

  5. ASK Said:

    Re your comment to the two previous responses: I wonder if much has changed?

  6. Claire Coleman Said:

    There are a lot of nuances in bragging and it depends on your definition of bragging. The difference lies somewhere between boasts that enhance your ego and information that enhances your goals, whatever they may be. If your goal is to win or maintain an account or to alert friends who care to an achievement, then it is important to impart that information, albeit in a straight forward fashion – and most people would not consider that bragging.

  7. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I think that consumers of PR have gotten smarter so that they are not so easily taken.

    Yet as I write this, I’ve seen potential clients in deep-dish conversations with another PR firm only too happy to take their money. They were looking for PR to do what only advertising can do for them and I told them this, along with the fact that it’s too soon for them to generate consumer coverage of what is just a [mediocre] idea–A long winded way of saying sadly, perhaps you are right.

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I think timing and tone of voice/choice of words matter.

    If a colleague has just lost a ton of business or is in financial decline, he/she doesn’t have to hear about the great new account you pulled in or the fact that you’re in The Wall Street Journal because you are cherished by your industry. Over the top exaggeration in a loud tone always grates, even if the information is accurate.

    I don’t want to hear from a doctor or dentist that he/she is THE BEST. Let me hear it from another patient. Similarly, I don’t think my clients need to hear this from me.

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